A dazzling performance by Nastja Ceh helped Slovenia climb into second spot in UEFA EURO 2004™ Group 1 with an impressive 4-1 home win against Cyprus in the Central stadium.
Two goals from Ermin Šiljak as well as strikes from Zlatko Zahovic and the outstanding Ceh were more than enough to defeat a disappointing Cyprus side - and put Slovenia in the driving seat for a place in the play-offs.
The match was off to a fast and furious start as Slovenia made the most of their stranglehold on possession as early as the five-minute mark when Zahovic took a short corner to Ceh, who curled a ball through for the on-rushing Siljak. He steered a tremendous header beyond the reach of goalkeeper Nikos Panayiotou to the delight of the local crowd.
Free-flowing Slovenia were quickly pegged back, however, when a fast counter-attack orchestrated by Rainer Raufmann ended up at the feet of Michalis Konstantinou, who restored parity from close range. Frantic football continued and four minutes later the hosts regained their lead when Siljak took advantage of the wet pitch and slid in to get a touch on Ceh’s curling cross and make it 2-1.
Ceh was a joy to watch throughout, constantly distributing useful passes for his team-mates as well as winning the penalty from which Zahovic made it 3-1 when he was pushed from behind inside the Cyprus box. To complete an impressive first-half performance, Ceh was on target two minutes before the interval when he threw himself at an incisive pass from Amir Karic, producing a bullet header which flew past Panayiotou.
Lacklustre second half
With the points all but secure, Slovenia were content to nudge the ball around and retain possession during a lacklustre second half. Cyprus simply lacked the tools required to unlock the Slovenian rearguard, whose only error when Konstantinou pounced was soon forgotten in light of the forwards' brilliance.
France's 2-1 win against Israel means Slovenia are still trailing the competition's holders by nine points, but goalscorer Šiljak was pleased with his team-mates' performance. He said: "We made a great start and scored early. Thankfully our defensive mistakes didn't prove to be costly."